Friday, October 31, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 43 - Whipped Cream

Isn't this fun? It doesn't have to do with today's recipe,
but it's Halloween and this is just cool!

Being that it's Halloween and people dress up as things that they're not, I thought it would be fun to try a recipe for making something that was posing as something else - in this case whipped cream.

                                          This week is the Battle of the Whipped Creams!

During the war, I imagine that heavy cream that was ideal for making whipped cream was hard to come by, especially for the British. So, they came up with ways to make whipped cream.
I wanted to compare the British recipe with the American recipe to see which one tasted and functioned as a whipped cream better.

The criteria I was looking for was:
1) Taste
2) Texture
3) Usability (how well I was able to use it for its intended purpose)

When comparing the two recipes, I think it's apparent which one will be most likely to win:

Mock Whipped Cream
British recipe from Victory Cookbook

Whipped Light Cream
American recipe from Knox Gelatin Pamphlet
 First up was the British recipe. It was important to establish some definitions.
1) Cornflour = Cornstarch
2) Margarine is not the same as vegetable spread, even if it's in a stick form. Margarine has 80% vegetable oil while vegetable spread has less than 80% vegetable oil plus more water, so it doesn't function the same in baking. At least according to the Land O' Lakes Margarine package. I actually didn't know there was a difference! So, I'm glad I read my packages.

I had to measure out the cornstarch. This was the first fatal mistake I made - I measured out too much cornstarch. I think I accidentally measured out 1 1/2 oz., when it was supposed to be only 1/2 oz.! This caused me a lot of problems later...

Ingreients: Milk, cornstarch, margarine, vanilla, sugar

Dissolve the cornstarch with a bit of the milk. I made some ooblec or whatever it's called because there was too much cornstarch!

I boiled the rest of the milk, added it to the cornstarch, and then put it back on the stove to "cook for 3 minutes", but it instantly turned to a thick paste making cooking it impossible! 

Then I added the cornstarch glop to the creamed margarine and sugar whipped it together with the vanilla and here it is in all its clumpy, yellow glory:
I didn't think this resulting product was being fair to the Brits, so I tried it all over again and it was then I realized my mistake of measuring out too much cornstarch. Things went together much more smoothly after I got the proportions right!

Notice how smooth and glossy it is after being cooked!
I had much more hope for this second attempt.
 I even used the electric mixer to beat the cornstarch mixture in with the margarine/sugar mixture, but unfortunately, it still never "whipped". At this point, I'd have to say it was a flaw in the recipe and leave it at that. The taste test was yet to come...

The final product. Not very "whipped", but definitely not clumpy like last time!

Next up was the American Knox Gelatin recipe. 
Ingredients include light cream (I used half and half), milk, and gelatin. Sugar and flavoring like vanilla are optional, but I did end up using them to have an equal flavor comparison with the British version. 

Soften the gelatin in the milk. Then dissolve it completely over hot water.

Pour your very chilled light cream into a deep, chilled bowl and beat with chilled beaters.

Slowly pour in the gelatin mixture as you beat.

 Beat until stiff. I'd have to say the mixture never got as stiff as I expected. In fact I think after beating it for so long it began to lose some of the stiffness it had acquired. That's when I stopped beating it.

The cream got to a rather good texture, I thought! Look at those soft peaks!
I added in the sugar and vanilla at this point.

An interesting thing is that I set it in the fridge for awhile and when I took it out it looked like this:
It also had a kind of "jello" texture when I shook the bowl, but when I dipped in a spoon, the bubbles had retained their structure. Not bad!

This is comparing the American whipped cream on the left
and the British whipped cream (1st attempt) on the right.
I tasted the British whipped cream (2nd attempt) first:
1) Taste = 0 
While the flavor wasn't bad, it didn't taste like whipped cream. It tasted like sweetened margarine with a slight vanilla hint. Not only that, but the cornstarch left a chalky taste in my mouth. Ick.
2) Texture = 0
The texture was anything but light and frothy as whipped cream should be. It was more like a light pudding texture.
3) Usability = 0.5
While you could put this on a dessert, it would essentially be like putting sweetened butter on top of your dessert. It could still function as a topping, though whipped cream should be far from your mind when you eat it. 

I tasted the American whipped cream last: 
1) Taste = 1
It tasted awesome. Just like sweetened whipped cream. The gelatin wasn't really noticeable.
2) Texture = 0.5
The texture was good, not excellent and it definitely had more weight to it than regular whipped cream. It couldn't stand up on its own like a good whipped cream. But it was creamy and smooth as cream should be. There was maybe a hint of gelatin in the texture, but nothing that would bother you.
3) Usability = 1
This would work great as a substitute for whipped cream. It tastes delicious and while it couldn't be mounded up high for a whipped cream topping, it still has a lovely lightness and frothy texture.

I even tasted both on some apple crisp. The American recipe definitely shone in this taste test!

American on left, British on the right
So, here's the tallied score:
British 0.5
American 2.5 

So, the Americans are the clear winners, right? Well...

This one is hard to call really. The Americans are definitely the more spoiled out of the two in terms of available ingredients. It's true that compared strictly side by side on the criteria I set, the American recipe beat the pants off the British one. But to be really fair, I think the British recipe is a valiant attempt at doing the best with what they had. Is it that much like whipped cream? Not really. But it definitely adds a little something to what could be an otherwise plain dessert, and that's all whipped cream is anyway, right?

So, bravo, Brits! I have to applaud the valiant effort, and while I would never in my right mind purposely make your version of wartime whipped cream, I think it was better than nothing. And besides, "mock whipped cream" never claimed to be actual whipped cream in the end, now did it? Ha!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rev War Event at Mount Harmon, MD

Mount Harmon Plantation House
I took our kids to a spur-of-the-moment Revolutionary War event this past Saturday at Mount Harmon Plantation in Earleville, Cecil County, MD. Two hours from us, it's a pretty house on a lovely spot by the Sassafrass River. This was our second Rev War event and my main mission was to find a unit we could hook up with. I tried looking for the unit that I've been communicating with, but no one had heard of them and couldn't tell me where to find them. That was pretty frustrating! So, instead, I looked around and found a tent fly that had several children and women cleaning up from the lunch hour. I got to talking with them and they were really friendly, answering my questions and listening as I explained my situation about finding a unit to join. It turns out that their unit is based not very far from us, are a family-friendly unit, and best of all they are open to men portraying civilians. I even met one of the men in their group who does a civilian impression. This was really exciting because it is very hard to find that in any reenacting unit since they're usually just military focused.

The weather was perfect, though blustery, and the site was just the right size for walking around with young kids. After talking with those nice people, we wandered the sutlers. I was thrilled that Burnley & Trowbridge were there! I took that opportunity to buy some beautiful striped linen for my outer petticoat, a lovely neck scarf, stockings, and even my first pair of period shoes! I figured since I didn't have to pay shipping, I might as well! I am super excited about my shoes, though I do need to break them in. Not as fun.

A rare picture of me with the
Sassafrass River in the background
After shopping, and just as the British troops were lining up for battle, we walked down to the river and laid down in the shade for a snack and a wee nap. It was very peaceful down by the water. When we heard the cannon fire we headed back up to the plantation house.

Normally the tours of the house cost an additional fee, but because the battle had started they let us go up to the roof where there is a neat observation deck. I have to say that watching a battle from the top of a house is the absolute best way to go! I wish I could do that for every battle. :-) It was so windy up there, though, that we went down soon after, looked a little through the house, and then took advantage of the distracted crowds to grab a bite to eat and get some ice cream. Soon after the battle ended we walked back to our car and drove home.

As we were driving back through the town of Earleville I happened to look over at their cemetery with their amazingly old tombstones (by American standards anyway!), and remembering that I had relatives buried in Cecil County somewhere. I wondered where they were buried. It was just a passing thought, really. We even passed a deliciously haunted-looking Edwardian house. I wished I had had the presence of mind to stop to take a picture!

Anyway, later at home I looked up where my ancestors were buried - and they were buried in Earleville! The very same town we had been in! I could have kicked myself. We could so have stopped to see their grave! Oh well. At least I know how to get there now. AND I have an excuse to go back to take a picture of that creepy house. Yay!

Two British boys sit down for a rest in the shade before the battle.
It's funny how happy it made me seeing one of them whip out a book to read,
and not a cell phone to check his texts. I'd like to assume that that is what immersion in history
can do for the youth of our society. It gives me hope!

The red coats lining up before the battle
An amazing view of the battle from the top of the house

The Colonists' camp - at least some of it. There were quite a lot of them!

Inside the beautiful plantation house.
Look at that gleaming gold wallpaper! 

I loved their charming herb garden. I really want one just like it!
I have plans for one in the works...
One of the plants in the garden is Lamb's Ear. According to one of the
tour guides, they used to use the Lamb's Ear as toilet paper!
That's something new to me. It's very soft too, so I guess it makes sense!

Here is my son enjoying his ice cream next to a very
fascinating tree. Several of the trees behind the plantation house
had these strange cement-looking tiles bricking up parts of the trunk.
It was so odd-looking! Not sure why they did that, but it looks cool anyway.
My stash from Burnley & Trowbridge!
The stockings have a false seam in them since stockings back then were flat woven
with a seam in the back. Very cool!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 42 - Vegetable Pie with Cheese & Oatmeal Crust

Ration recipes come to the rescue again! I didn't know what to make for dinner tonight, but I found this great recipe in my "Eating for Victory" book which is a compilation of British reproduction pamphlets from WWII. There are a whole lot of things I love about this recipe for Vegetable Pie with Cheese & Oatmeal Crust.

1) It's fast and easy. You only have to make a top crust.
2) If you cheat like I did, you can use mixed frozen vegetables - already prepared. Or you can just use whatever veggies you have on hand.
3) It has creative ways to make your flour and fats stretch.
4) It offers a healthy dose of veggies.
5) The recipe is a meatless meal, which would have obviously saved on your meat ration.

Okay, first of all I have to defend myself about the frozen veggies. You might think they didn't have frozen veg back then, but actually they did! Alright, so maybe they weren't that available in Britain, but frozen vegetables were available in America and had been since the end of the '30s in select areas of the country. (Trust me, I wrote a capstone paper on the topic!) :-) So, I just concluded to myself that this was a Britsh/American hybrid pie. Ha!

What really grabbed me about this pie recipe was the really creative crust. It used mashed potato and oats to extend the flour and cheese to extend the fat - the mashed potato helps with that as well. I thought the flavor of the cheese, depending on what kind you use, and the texture of the oats would make for an exciting, different type of crust! I was really excited to try it.

Ingredients: cooked vegetables, stock, parsley, grated cheese, flour, rolled oats, mashed potato, lard, and salt.
The recipe listed everything in ounces, so I measured everything out on my trusty postal scale.
I have the recipe measurements down at the bottom of the post.
Put the cooked veggies into a pie dish* and sprinkle the parsley over the top. It calls for fresh parsley, but I only had dried.

*Note: Before this step, I would suggest taking a 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and toss the cooled, cooked veggies in it. Without any thickener, all that stock just sits there doing nothing but flavoring the veg and then the pie ends up soupy as you'll see later! With the flour, it could be making a nice gravy as it bakes.

Once again I was too shy with my salt. I'd say it needed between 1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. of salt.

Add stock and seasoning - salt and pepper. I used part stock, part vegetable water from my cooked veggies. Wouldn't the British wartime government be proud of me? :-D

Mash together the lard and the mashed potatoes until well combined. Notice the bits of potato peel? I was using leftover homemade mashed potatoes and I like having some peels left on. Just think of all that fiber and those vitamins! Eat those jackets, soldier! Haha!

Haha! He's so cute!
 In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, salt, and shredded cheese together. I used an extra sharp cheddar which had a great flavor, but I wonder what the Brits would have had on hand...

Combine the flour mixture with the potato mixture until well blended. Add water slowly and stir until you have a nice stiff dough.

 Roll the dough out...

 And fit it over the top of your filling. I crimped the edges to make it look nice and cut a steam hole so it wouldn't come spilling out the sides.

Pie crust and veg filling.
 Bake in a moderate (350ºF - 375ºF) oven for about 30 minutes. I had my oven set to 350º, but had to leave it in for 40 minutes to get the top nice and golden.
My lovely pie is all done!
 When I cut open the pie, there was nothing to hold the filling together, so I had to scoop it out separately from the top crust. Blah!

You can see how soupy the filling is with no thickener:

The pie tasted very nice, actually and I think it was a great idea for a fast and easy dinner. It was nice only having to roll out one pie crust. The pie crust itself was awesome - the flavor from the cheese and the texture of the oats made for an interesting and great-tasting crust. I would definitely use the recipe again.

There were two downsides to this recipe - the lack of thickener for the filling and the unstated amount of salt. I'm getting better at knowing how much salt there needs to be for savory things based on the amount of flour or ingredients used, but the crust could have used more salt. I guess I'm still learning! The filling definitely needed more salt. But that's something easy to tweak. I really think, like I mentioned above, that if the veggies were tossed in a 1/4 cup of flour, the issue would be solved. I'd definitely like to try this one again. 

Give it a try and see what you think. And if you discover any other ways to tweak the recipe, let me know!

Overall, it was a great recipe that showcased British wartime cooking tactics to make a filling and healthful meal. 
from "Eating for Victory"
I served our pie with a nice salad.
Here are the recipe measurements in case you don't have a scale:
(Keep in mind these are approximate. You might need to tweak a little.)

Vegetable Pie with Cheese and Oatmeal Crust
3 cups cooked, mixed vegetables (chopped mixed veg, or a frozen blend of veg that has been cooked and water drained - better yet use the cooking water to supplement the stock called for)
1 Tbsp. dried parsley or 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley
1 cup stock
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup mashed potato
2 Tbsp. fat such as lard, butter, or margarine
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup shredded cheese, loosely packed
1/2 tsp. - 1 tsp. salt (according to taste)
about 1/4 cup water

Follow directions as written in image above.